The Trump Administration Intends To Gut ‘The Clean Water Act’

"US EPA Region 7 scientists Todd Phillips and Roberta Vogel-Leutung, test the water quality at Indian Creek in Kansas City, Mo. on September 26, 2011."Environmental Protection Agency/Public Domain

"The rollback will take us backward. And most people don’t remember just how bad that was."

Proposed changes to the Clean Water Act under President Donald Trump will undermine federal water protections and “imperiling drinking water, endangered species, and ecosystems across the country”, the Intercept reported last week.

According to the rule that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release next week — some details of which were leaked Thursday — streams that are dependent on rainfall and wetlands not physically connected to year-round waterways will no longer be covered by the Clean Water Act.

As a result of the change, an estimated 60-90 percent of U.S. waterways could lose federal protections that currently shield them from pollution and development, according to Kyla Bennett, director of science policy at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Alaska and the arid west will be hit particularly hard by the new rule, which will be subject to a comment period before it is finalized.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Intercept that in some areas of the country, this move is “a complete wiping away of the Clean Water Act.”

By removing water quality standards and permitting requirements, the rule will open these streams, rivers, and wetlands to being paved over, filled in, or polluted. The result, environmentalists say, may take us back to the days of river fires. “You’ll be able to dump as much crap into them as you want,” Hartl said of our nation’s waterways. “Anyone will be free to destroy them as they see fit.”

Daniel Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance, noted that the Clean Water Act as it was originally intended failed to achieve some of its objectives, like "stopping all pollution discharges by 1985 and making all waterways fishable and swimmable".

Even before the new rule goes into effect, more than half of the waterways in the U.S. are officially impaired, according to EPA data. The majority of the more than 1 million miles of rivers and streams that have been assessed violate federal water quality standards — as do more than 70 percent of ponds, lakes, and reservoirs, and almost 80 percent of the bays and estuaries that have been assessed. Of the 4,460 miles of monitored Great Lakes shoreline, 98 percent is contaminated, as are virtually all the Great Lakes’ open waters, which now contain PCBs, dioxin, mercury, pesticides, and other pollutants.


“The Clean Water Act succeeded just enough to doom itself,” said Estrin, whose organization helps people across the country contend with coal ash leaks, chemical spills, algal blooms, drinking water contamination, and all matter of water crises. “The rollback will take us backward. And most people don’t remember just how bad that was.”

Read the full report here.